September 14, 2018

On August 23rd, Century College President Angelia Millender, wearing a firefighter jacket and helmet, took a brief ride on a fire engine provided to Century College by the Maplewood Fire Department.

While getting to pull the fire engine’s horn was fun, President Millender was particularly excited for the expanded training capabilities the fire engine offers.

“This partnership will greatly benefit both the college and the community,” said President Millender. “With this generous contribution from the Maplewood Fire Department, we have the means to enhance training for firefighters across the East Metro area.”

The fire engine, which was sold to Century College at a discounted rate, is a smart investment, according Maplewood Fire Chief Steve Lukin.

“Century College is a great partner of ours. Anything that we can do to assist them in continuing to send us qualified firefighters, we’re on board with it,” said Lukin.

Hands-on Firefighting

Live-burn training has long been a key component of Century College’s firefighting program. While students had access to hoses and a water pump, the water flow was sometimes limited, and firefighting students didn’t have access to much of the equipment they would be using in the field.

A fire engine changes all of that, according to Steve Shapira, the Fire & EMS Programs Manager for Century College’s Public Safety program.

“This adds a whole new dimension to our fire training program,” said Shapira. “With this truck, Century College can provide a real-world approach to hands-on firefighting.”

In the past, fire engines were provided from other departments for live training. The downside of this was Century College’s training partners had to pay for driver/operators as well as take apparatus out of their primary service area.

Now, since Century College has their own fire engine, firefighting students will be able to drive and use equipment on the truck, simulating a real fire call.

“It’s a groundbreaking partnership – I don’t know of any other two-year colleges in the area that have their own fire engine,” said Lukin.

A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

The partnership between Century College and the Maplewood Fire Department is a clear win-win for both parties.

“As much as this is a partnership, it’s a relationship,” said Shapira. “It’s about building trust so they know they’re going to get a great product from us.”

Maplewood Fire Department is the primary stakeholder in the East Metro Public Safety Training Facility, which opened in 2016. The facility provides training for Maplewood, Oakdale, North St. Paul, Lake Elmo, as well as numerous other East Metro fire departments.

Century College, through their partnership with the Maplewood Fire Department, is permitted to utilize the facility for their hands-on coursework. Century College, in turn, trains over 95 percent of Maplewood’s firefighters, Lukin estimates.

Numerous other fire departments in the East Metro, including the St. Paul Fire Department, train through Century College. This eliminates the liability of training their own firefighters and grants them access to resources for live burn training.

The departments also benefit from the depth of instruction Century College offers. The fire program has around 50 instructors available to teach.

“We provide a quality of training and a diverse array of courses that fire departments don’t have the capacity for,” said Shapira. “Firefighters come out of Century College better prepared than if they were learning in-house only.”

Moving Training Forward

When Shapira developed Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a type of cancer firefighters contract at a 51 percent greater rate than the general public, he was forced to retire after 17 years with the Saint Paul Fire Department, where he served as Captain for nearly half of his career.

While Shapira misses the adrenaline rush that comes with firefighting, what was most important to Shapira was the impact he made in the community.

“It was a privilege to go out there and make a difference,” said Shapira. “As a firefighter, people are calling you on their worst day. Our job is to make their worst day better.”

Though Shapira was devastated to leave firefighting, he’s proud of what he has accomplished at Century College, and excited for how the program is expanding. Shapira’s first goal was to build partnerships in the East Metro; now Century College is training firefighters from across the metropolitan area.

“Our programs based out of our White Bear Lake campus are growing and growing,” said Shapira. “I’m hopeful and confident that we’ll see nothing but expansion in all directions.”

When President Millender sounded the fire engine’s horn, it signaled more than the arrival of a new truck: it signaled a change, and the next step in Century College’s commitment to growth and a stronger community.

“We could offer the same program year after year and semester after semester,” said Shapira. “But I’m focused on what’s new, what’s different, and how we can move training forward while keeping both our firefighters and the public as safe as possible”.